Timeless Truth

2020 was supposed to be a year of vision, of new beginnings for many people. Now almost eight months in, we are facing some of the uncertain moments of our lives. As a person dealing with an enormous amount of uncertainty and fear, this year has certainly demoralized me in far greater ways than I could have imagined.

But this has been a season of unexpected growth and learning in so many ways. James reminds us to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

As a Christ follower, it is not a question of IF you will face trials but WHEN you will encounter struggles. And the measure of your life is based not on what happens to you but how you REACT to what happens to you.

Covid-19 has quite literally changed the world we once knew – as much as we want to deny it, the post-Covid world will look quite different. The way we approach everyday life, restaurants, church, social gatherings – everything will have a different feel going forward. And this will likely last far beyond the successful development and distribution of a vaccine and other treatments that are coming.

People have lost jobs, family members, friends, livelihoods, dreams and so much more during this season. More than those things, many have simply lost HOPE and the ability to dream again. Zoom meeting dread fills our days. Failure and compounded delays continue to demoralize us.

Jesus reminds us in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This truth has not gone away in a 2020 dominated by Covid-19.

For those looking for hope, I point you to words that have guided believers for centuries, words divinely inspired by God and meant to be a guide for life especially in the worst moments:

  • God will finish what He started.
    • “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6
  • God is not surprised; He knows what is coming and goes before us.
    • “The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes…” – Deuteronomy 1:30
    • “For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” – Isaiah 52:12
    • “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron.” – Isaiah 45:2
  • God will strengthen us.
    • “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10
    • “He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.” – Psalm 18:34
  • God’s power is strong where we are weak.
    • But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9

In this season, the circumstances may look different; the methods have changed and things have become more difficult to achieve. But it doesn’t alter the fact that God is STILL on the throne and working.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
  now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19

Do we have a heart to hear and see what God is doing in this moment? Let us rely only on seeking Him for strategy in this season and know He can still do the impossible.

Transitory

As this decade winds to a close in just a few months and what is likely a wild start to the next one begins, 2019 on reflection thus far can be summed up with one word for me: transition.

At the beginning of April, I was working at a different agency for the State of Oklahoma and was in a rhythm of what seemed normal. In May, the winds of change began to move as I transitioned to a new job in Stillwater, Oklahoma, also with the state government. I moved to a residence there shortly after.

Suddenly, my sense of normal had shifted entirely.

As a person who absolutely does not handle change well, it has been a testing period to see how much transition I could handle at one time.

But in the middle of it all, I remembered the fundamental truth that God is a God of seasons; and in every season there is a purpose.

For anyone going through such a transitory time, some key lessons God has been touching me:

Trust God in the Unknown

Proverbs 3:5-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

These verses have been never more true than this year in my life. With every decision there was agony and fear, but when the time to decide came God always came through with clarity. And I have seen God make my paths straight in incredible ways.

I have been engaged in ministries such as ICPF and in my church and community for most of my life, but this year, taking time to reflect, I am in awe of the ways and paths God has opened to be an influence for the next generation. In a recent conference call, I was in awe that individuals on the call listened to someone much younger than them. One thing is clear: every step on my journey has been ordained by God, and I am thankful for every person who has been on this path.

And I know this story is only continuing in an exciting way in this season. I’m reminded of God’s words to Abram in Genesis 12:1 (Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”) Without a clear direction and details and only armed with a command and promise from God, Abram and his clan set out. If only I could reach the faith of Abram in this life. May it be said of me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Know the Power of Influence

In a typical Google search on influence today, the most common result is related to social media influencers, people who have reached a certain credibility and ability to sway followers.

But I have been recently been challenged by the words of God to Moses in Exodus: “What is in your hand?” We see in this short Scripture God reveals that through Moses’ availability God will reveal His power and glory.

The power of influence goes well beyond what we see in the social media world today. As many have passed from this world this year already, the constant reminder of how short our lives are is ever present. But in the short time we have, will we use what we have to leave a legacy that lasts beyond our lives?

So what do you have? Influence? Position? Friendship? Do you inspire hope in others? Are you a great organizer? A visionary? Are you using what you have within your sphere of influence for His glory?

We have a short lifespan to use our gifts and strengths for God. What will you do with the time you have? Will you answer the question, “What is in your hand?” and be faithful what is given to you?

Life is crazy. It is hard, full of change and transitions. But in every moment, we have an option to exercise positive, godly influence and be part of the story God is weaving. Will we get caught up in the pointless worries of life or will we focus on using what we have for God’s glory?

What are we hearing?

17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17 English Standard Version (ESV)

Thinking back to just a few weeks ago during our church retreat and the powerful time in God’s presence, I am still amazed at that night but have admittedly recently struggled with faith since that time in relation to our church and my own walk.

These words of Paul to the Roman church make a very basic but crucial point: faith comes by hearing the Word.

On Sundays, we are eager to praise and look like we have our faith strong and in practice. We have practiced and practiced the art of looking as if we have it all together.

But if we are being honest, most of us are not really turning to the Word in the crucial moments, when the flesh is tempting us.

We say we want revival but our actions and words Monday through Friday reveal otherwise. We fill our ears with everything and anything (doubt, music, entertainment, etc.) but the Word of God and somehow expect to grow in our faith. We speak words of faith and cursing with the same mouth.

Pr. Micheal Todd gave an example in a recent sermon about how a football team can have the best huddle – and discuss the plays and cheer loudly. But if they never move toward the field and play the game, it is all talk.

Pr. Jeremy Foster of Hope City Church (Houston) spoke of something called “hazy faith” this last Sunday. When you drive in fog, you can’t always see where you’re going because the visibility is limited. But you keep going because you have no option. I believe we are in a hazy faith moment of our church right now. We can’t always see the signs of how God is working but we are assured of one thing in Scripture, that He is always working things out for our good, as individuals and as the church.

So I simply ask: When it comes to our faith and moving with purpose, are we willing to move forward and give it everything? Do we truly love hearing from the Word? I believe the momentum from that moment at retreat is just getting started – but if we are not exercising that faith every day that movement will pass and we will remain in complacency. What will we choose this day?

Since the retreat we have returned to normal life and routines. But I close with a few thoughts highlighted by Bro. Bliss at our retreat:
– The enemy has distracted us from the place where we need to be.
– We get so busy in life we forget to reconnect and plug in.
– The enemy comes to attack your PRAISE first. When your praise is being silenced, there is lack of breakthrough.
– Lastly, what we need in this moment as Christ followers is an encounter not to be entertained. Have you had that encounter? If not, will you seek it?

The Purpose of Failure

You try to be productive and focus. But a flood of thoughts come and your mind becomes a messy haze. It is hard to focus on any particular point. It is a moment when you have been told you have monumentally messed up and are going to lose something of immense value in your life, something similar to your job. Or a moment where your decision making reveals your lack of ethics.

You wrack your mind, asking how and why you came to a place where you went wrong. You consider every possible extreme scenario that could end up hurting you.

You wonder, “Why me? Why did I have to go and mess up so badly? Things could have been so much different for me if only I had made better decisions.” Or some version of that.

I was considering the purpose and impact of failure in the course of our lives. Why do we fail? Why does God allow us to go through seasons of failure and lack of success/progress?

I have been through such experiences to realize that failure and the lessons that arise from it can be the driving force to your success.

After down moments in life such as these, I’ve found it incredibly easy to hide in a corner and increasingly desire to be invisible and alone in your mire of despair.

But in hindsight alone is it discovered that the path to your God-intended purpose included this very troublesome but necessary step. The deep anxiety faced in your current struggle and the ability to overcome that arises are the very forces that ultimately propel you to your final purpose.

If you are in that place of failure and doubt about your future, don’t stay there. Move forward; stay focused and don’t let your past hold you back.

In the words of writer and theologian C.S. Lewis, “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”

The Time We Have

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

The man who gave the world The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), J.R.R. Tolkien of Bloemfontein, South Africa, gave the world these words uttered by Gandalf the Gray to Frodo Baggins. Tolkien was born 125 years ago this date in 1892.

As 2016 has departed and a new year begins, this same question comes before us: to what do we devote our time and energy? The life we are given, the precious moments before us, do we really value them and use them in the most useful and value-added ways?

2016 taught me many powerful lessons, but the strongest lesson was one that I hope will dominate your and my 2017: Find what your passion is and once you find it, pursue it with everything you have.

Life can throw a great number of opportunities your way, and they all seem like paths to take, but when is the last time you asked if you are working toward what is truly your God-given passion and purpose in this life?

In a work meeting a couple years back, I heard a question that still rings powerfully to my ears: What keeps you up at night? As I considered that question I discovered the interests and passions that drive me forward in pursuit of God’s purpose. What dominates your thought and consumes your attention? Is that a passion to pursue?

In the words of Jon Bloom (Desiring God, Dec. 19, 2014):

Tolkien never intended his tales of Middle-earth to be a desertion from reality, but a means of seeing beyond the confined walls of our perceptions to a much larger reality beyond. And he suffered no delusions that Middle-earth was that reality. But through the lenses of Middle-earth, Tolkien, an unashamed Christian, wanted to show us “a far-off gleam . . . of evangelium in the real world” (emphasis his, “On Fairy-stories”). His kind of fantasy was intended to help prisoners in the real world escape and go home. (Source)

One hundred and twenty-five years after his birth, Tolkien’s storytelling has truly impacted the world with the massive cinematic universes created and characters captured on screen.

Will the way we spend our lives leave a legacy long after we are gone? Will we be known for using our time pursuing God and His purpose or did we just work to get by?

Will 2017 be a year where you continue to just follow your routine and just get by or will you reflect and push for that crazy dream that seems impossible? Let’s hope you pursue your adventure and find yourself on a path to new heights come December.

Lessons from Junior

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Tonight as I was part of the memorial service for Junior, it hit me even more than it did earlier this week the impact this man had on the youth of our city. He was truly a giant of a leader that stood as the backbone of our community.

Some individuals do so much for a community that to narrowly define it is very difficult. At a first glance, it may seem that Junior was just very active in his church and community. But his impact went far and beyond that. His roles did not always involve a visible presence on the stage but you always could feel the touch that Junior brought to a project.

In 2003, OPYF started a journey of doing annual drama productions. In 2004, we conducted one of our largest productions, The Pharisee. From The Pharisee onto many other plays, Junior was always a giant force behind the scenes, making sure everything came to life despite any difficulties along the way. As it was stated at the memorial tonight, in a room full of 30-40 rambunctious kids, Junior could silence them all with his quiet but commanding voice because they all knew he loved them all and cared for them. That kind of leadership is rare and will be missed.

Junior was a big fan of being behind the scenes. For organizations like Future of a Child and others, Junior would work diligently and faithfully managing websites and always being a force behind the scenes. He encouraged the visions of those who had dreams and helped them accomplish those goals.

He was an excellent model of servant leadership. He didn’t do any of his leadership duties to lift himself up, but did all to glorify God.

I want to end this with a few final thoughts/lessons that I believe Junior would want us to know:

  1. KEEP FIGHTING. In all my experiences interacting with Junior, no matter how bad anything might be in his personal life or struggles, he never let it show and he flashed his trademark smile and reassured us all that things would work out. No matter how difficult a task seems or impossible it seems, keep fighting and work to finish what God has planned.
  2. SERVE GOD FULLY. Emphasis on “serve” … Junior exemplified what it was to serve God through serving his family, his church and his community, to the glory of God and not himself. He sought to bring unity and vision and growth in whatever he did. He proved this through word and deed. As was stated during the memorial, he was a faithful tither, giving every single month without fail. And if there was any need for help he always stepped up no matter what.
  3. KEEP DREAMING AND SUPPORT DREAMERS. Junior was a supporter of those with vision. If he knew he could support the ministry or business efforts of a young person, he would do everything in his power to support that effort and make it come alive. After I heard of his passing this week, one thing kept ringing through my head: keep working toward the visions and dreams I had; don’t quit. And I thank Junior for living that and showing me how important that is.

Lastly, to all OPYF youth, I believe Junior would want us to carry on his legacy. His father, Pr. K.E. Mathew, was instrumental in starting the early churches in Oklahoma City. And Junior knew he had to carry on that legacy to the next generation. And he did so, with a zeal and passion that was hard to find in most. But I believe he would want us in this generation to stand up and continue to fight for the right things, to expand the Kingdom of God.

Even in his last days, though he didn’t really need to, he recommitted himself to ministry. Let us daily recommit ourselves to the purpose of God and carry on the work and efforts Junior started, and keep his zeal and passion alive in our community.

Thank you so much, Junior, for your life and lasting impact on Oklahoma City.

“Remain”ing confident in the Lord

David begins Psalm 27 with a section scholars refer to as a “statement of confidence” (Ch. 27:1-6). In verse 7, he shifts to an “individual lament” and implores the Lord to teach him God’s way in his life and to be led in a straight path. But in concluding this great psalm, David returns to his statement of confidence when he says:

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27:13-14 (NIV)

 

For David to remain confident in God means that:

-At one time, he had a confidence in God.

-At some point, he was tempted to lose his confidence in God.

-But through faith, he nonetheless remained confident in the goodness of God in his life.

 

We all have moments where we are strong in our faith. And then we have moments where the foundation of our faith almost seems gone and we lose our sense of confidence and hope.

This is a struggle King David went through; we all can relate as we go through trials in our lives. There is speculation as to when in his life David wrote this psalm, whether in the end as a reflection of his life or in the middle of his rule when military tensions were high.

There are moments when things make sense and moments when things may seem to fall apart. But in that moment when things seem to be falling apart, it is important to remember this: Above the clouds of worry and doubt and your circumstances, the God who reigns over the earth and knows your beginning and end remains above the stormy clouds that seem to dominate your perspective in life.

And when you focus on the One above the storm, you are able to trek confidently into the unknown, armed with the strength given by God.

The Power of Rejection

Rummaging through old items in my room today, I came across a number of things that evoked memories of different moments of my life; among those are the following: a letter I received from then-President Bill Clinton in 2000, a handwritten copy of the Ten Commandments I used likely once when reciting them at a youth meeting, a thank you card I received from the UCO president while I was a journalist there.

But there are 2 items in particular that stand out that have special meaning, one that speaks of the power of failure/rejection and another that speaks of the grace of  God. The second item will be my next posting.

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I have in my position a letter I received years ago. I was in college at the time and not living at home, so I did not get the letter until I came home one weekend. And upon arriving home I saw this letter waiting for me. I saw that it was from the company I had applied to and immediately hope built inside of me.

The excitement of possibly starting a new position in this great company was rising inside me. The rush of going to work there the first day, settling into my desk, became the overwhelming thought of the day. That position was a role that involved a lot of movement and interaction with senior staff, and the thought was exciting to say the least. But before I could go further, I had to open the letter, just to be sure.

Inside the envelope was a brief letter informing me that the position I had applied for had been filled. My immediate reaction was one of utter disappointment, but it was my next reaction that was more significant. In the emotion of the moment, I considered how ridiculous it was for me to think I was qualified for that position. What audacity did I have to think I was capable for that job?

As these thoughts were going on inside my head, I realized I had to decide what to do with the letter, and I basically had two options: throw it away, or keep it. In that moment, I made a surprising decision (upon reflection) and decided to keep it.

Till this day and into the future, I will refer to that letter of rejection to serve as a token of the many failures that led me to the place of ultimate success God leads me to. When I see that letter, I am reminded of all the failures and rejections of my life thus far and how they all played a part as to where I am today.

I was not selected for that job, but because of not getting that job I gained other valuable experiences that helped shape who I am today. EVERY experience you endure in your life shapes who you are and become. Your greatest failures and rejections are opportunities for growth and development that you would never get otherwise. 

In the words of American poet and author Maya Angelou, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” 

You may want something so bad, a dream you want oh so badly to be fulfilled, but it may not happen in the timing and season you would prefer. When that occurs, what is your next reaction? For most of us, it is frustation, fear of the next step.

But for the redeemed child of God, there is but one source of hope, as expressed by the writers of Psalm 42 (v. 11, NIV84):

“Why are you downcast, O my soul?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.”

—-

My disappointment from that rejection letter is the same as it was on that day, but the strength I gained from dealing with that rejection only made me stronger in subsequent rejections. The power of reflecting on those failures when great successes do occur is important to understand. It is important to recall from where you came and what experiences shaped you on your journey to success. Every rejection I endure is part of a journey to the great success God has in store for me. But I must wait patiently for that moment, and in the meantime, dwell on the words of the prophet Habakkuk (3:17-19, NIV84):

“Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
 he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, 
he enables me to go on the heights.”

Abide in Your Sphere

We hear the tales of the privileged who get to go on those mission trips to South America or Africa. We hear the stories of the great successes in ministry from traveling evangelists as they stop temporarily in our locale. And we imagine what a life they must have, traveling the globe and making an impact.

We imagine ourselves leaving our present, lackluster life and forging ahead to an adventure-filled path doing the “work of God” as we are supposed to. According to the Great Commission, that is the aim, right? “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19, NIV).

Yet we lose sight of the fact that God has placed us where we ought to be, according to His master plan. Our life, from one view, is a set of circumstances that led us to our present position. We entered the school system to learn the necessary lessons for life. We entered college to prepare for our profession. Along the way, we meet the right people who open the door for us to enter into our career. And on we go down life’s journey into marriage, family life, etc.

But in the middle of all that we forget the words of Paul to the Corinthian church, “Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them” (1 Corinthians 7:20, NIV). In the words of Charles Spurgeon,”Take care, dear reader, that you do not forsake the path of duty by leaving your occupation, and take care you do not dishonour your profession while in it” (Morning and Evening, June 27).

God has placed you in your profession, or in your educational field, or wherever you find yourself. He has placed people in your life for you to impact. His desire is for you to leave the place you are transformed and for Christ to rule the hearts of those there when you leave.

Spurgeon aptly states it this way:

“Therefore be not discontented with your calling. Whatever God has made your position, or your work, abide in that, unless you are quite sure that he calls you to something else. Let your first care be to glorify God to the utmost of your power where you are. Fill your present sphere to his praise, and if he needs you in another he will show it you” (Morning and Evening, June 27).

In your workplace, in your classroom, in your church, wherever God has placed you, be the best that you can be, to glorify God who created you so that your sphere of influence would be transformed.

Let us not be caught up in the grand, visionary notions of ministry that are filled with thoughts of fame and adventure, but rather be caught up in the essential goal of reaching those within our reach for the Kingdom of God and glorifying His name, regardless of how mundane, dirty or fancy the work.

Back to the Beginning

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, NIV).

In the midst of life’s struggles and the moments when uncertainty clouds any glimpse of hope, we must come back to the beginning of it all.

When the earth was “formless and empty,” God decided to take action and use His creativity to form the universe that came to be. The beauty of this realization comes when we realize that in this creation, God made man to have life to be a part of His master plan.
What this means for each one of us is that every moment of our lives is within the sovereignty of God.

So when we come to the place where we are tired and exhausted with the worries and trials of this life and the seemingly endless new stresses that arise, we must remember that God knew us before we were in our mother’s womb, that He had a plan for us long before our existence was even known.

And that should be the greatest comfort to us, as that means no struggle or trial we face is too much for us to face, especially with the power of God to back us up. No matter where you are in your journey, do not lose faith in God. Even if you do not fully understand the plan of God for your life, don’t lose faith in the God who sent His only Son to die on the cross for your sins and give you a chance to be redeemed from your sinful ways.

Let us never get so lost and worried that we lose sight of or forget to remember the God who created us with a very unique purpose as part of His master plan.

“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.”
-Ephesians 1:11-12, The Message